How to choose the right smartphone for photo or video

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Martí Micolau
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As we explained to you, it is possible to take beautiful photos with a good smartphone. But how do you find the right camera phone? Here are our tips for choosing...



At Digital, we test more than 100 smartphones per year. All are equipped with photo modules that compete in ingenuity to offer more or less innovative technologies. So here are more than a hundred reasons to get lost in your quest for the perfect photophone. Luckily, we're here to help you find the best camera smartphone with our reviews and specialist buying guides.

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What is a photophone?

Since the Samsung SGH-V200 and its 0,35 megapixel sensor, launched in June 2000, technologies have evolved a lot. Today, smartphones are real miniaturized cameras. A photophone is therefore a high-performance smartphone in photography and equipped with advanced functions.




The Samsung SGH V200, a photophone from the year 2000.

Improving over the years, the quality of smartphone photos has sometimes supplanted that of some compact cameras. So much so that sales of compact cameras ended up collapsing.


The iPhone 12 Pro is a 2020 photophone. © Louis Royer / TechnologiesTips.

How about a digital camera?

Even dominated by smartphones, compacts can still boast some advantages. Their zoom is often more versatile. Photo functions can also be more developed for experts. Higher-end models also benefit from a larger sensor which offers better quality.

Obviously, reflex or hybrid type cameras allow you to go even further in its practice, in particular by changing lenses, and by having better image quality... at the cost of a larger size, a certain complexity and an additional device to take with you.

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What types of photos can I take with a smartphone?

Taking out your smartphone to photograph a daily scene is now well established in usage. Thanks to technological advances, the proliferation of photo modules or the improvement of software processing, smartphones are able to cope with many situations (souvenir photos, portraits, landscapes, architecture, digitizing important administrative documents, etc.). With growing demand, smartphone manufacturers are integrating specific features to facilitate shooting, such as a panorama function, scanner or a very wide-angle module, for example.


Panorama taken with an iPhone 12 Pro. © Guillaume du Mesgnil d'Engente / TechnologiesTips

Different photo modules for different uses

Many smartphones now have two, three or even four or five photo modules which play the role of the different lenses of an SLR camera, for example.

  • The main module: it embeds the best sensor and wide-angle optics. It is suitable for the vast majority of situations.
  • The very wide-angle module: it allows you to capture a very wide scene. It is a great help to capture a landscape, a building or a whole group of friends.
  • The telephoto module: it may be perceived as more difficult to use. It is very useful for portraits or to photograph a subject from afar.
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A photo taken at a very wide angle. © Louis Royer / TechnologiesTips

Don't forget the front module!

The era of the smartphone is also that of the selfie. The self-portraits fill our social networks and they are well helped by the various front-end modules. While some manufacturers do not apply the best components to these modules, others, particularly Chinese, offer modules with very defined sensors and offer advanced software processing.

However, some will say that excessive smoothing of the skin leads to a wax doll effect that is not always natural. It is often possible to cut out some of these treatments. A good front module is also very practical for enjoying a beautiful image in video calling.

Some features to understand

Once the modules have been identified, it is necessary to decipher the characteristics that make them up.

  • The focal: expressed in mm, it corresponds to the angle of view and therefore to the framing of the photo. The smaller the number, the larger the angle. Below 20 mm, we then speak of very wide-angle.
  • The opening: noted f/ followed by a number, it corresponds to the opening of the diaphragm. The smaller the number, the greater the amount of light reaching the sensor. However, the difference between two apertures (f/1,8 and f/2,2, for example) will be quite minor on a smartphone.
  • The definition : it corresponds to the number of pixels that the sensor contains and is generally indicated in megapixels (Mpx).
  • The flash: it allows you to take photos at night, indoors, or to serve as an auxiliary lamp. The vast majority of smartphones today are equipped with it.
  • Mechanical stabilization: associated with software stabilization, the mechanical stabilization can be located at the level of the sensor, the optics or the entire module. It should compensate for involuntary movement, especially for low-light photos or while recording video.
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Does the number of sensor pixels matter?

The more pixel dense the sensor, the more detailed the image is likely to be. However, very defined sensors also result in heavier photos and require more power for processing. With a high definition, the pixels are also smaller and may have more difficulty capturing the light. The image quality is then very often reduced in low light.


The Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra offers a very advanced photo component.

The number of pixels is therefore not necessarily a determining criterion. Some manufacturers, such as Apple or Google, are content with sensors with a “classic” definition, between 12 Mpx and 16 Mpx. It is thanks to their software processing that they manage to offer very good results in the face of more defined sensors.

What about night photography?

Night photography has come a long way thanks to several software techniques. For example, several shots can be recorded and then combined in a very short period of time, always to capture more light. Unfortunately, night performance is very uneven from one manufacturer to another, and even from one module to another on the same smartphone! We are still testing this function in our laboratory to verify the brand's promises.

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And the video in all this?

All smartphones offer a video mode. 4K definition is now the norm. It is superior to the Full HD definition that is still found on many videos. The frame rate sometimes reaches 60 fps and allows for smoother video capture, especially when there is a bit of action. Some smartphones even benefit from a higher definition, in 8K, which is not very widespread at present.

If video is really important to you, choose a device with mechanical stabilization, so as to effectively reduce jerkiness during movement; Unfortunately, this function is often only available on high-end models.

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Bonus Features

In addition to the main characteristics mentioned above, manufacturers add others, more or less original, to stand out. If they are not always the most relevant, they can sometimes be decisive at the time of purchase:

  • A microscope module: especially seen at Oppo, it is not always useful, but quite impressive.
  • A macro module: it allows close-up photography.
  • A big telephoto lens: thanks to him, it is possible to take a photo from very far away, but it is difficult to integrate into a smartphone. Some manufacturers work around the problem by using a periscope system.
  • A LiDAR scanner: it detects the presence of objects in the field, increases the speed of development or allows 3D scanning. Apple introduced this technology with its smartphones.
  • A very large sensor: the photo quality is often better, but the thickness of the smartphone suffers.
  • Sealing: for taking pictures by the pool or in the rain.
  • Software functions advanced features, such as taking raw photos, moving photos, slow-motion videos, etc.


Integration of a periscopic module by Oppo. © Oppo

Some recommended models

It is difficult to recommend a particular photo smartphone as there are so many references and different price brackets. To help you find your way around, our guide to the best photo smartphones includes the best current references based on our test results and price, while our more general guide includes a larger number of references. To search for yourself among all our tests, you will have to go through our smartphone comparison.

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What is the best smartphone for photography?

You are planning to change your smartphone and want to get the best possible model to be able to take photos at any time?

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